Set 150 years before the events of Phase 1 of Star Wars: The High Republic, Light of the Jedi, and thus around 350 before the Skywalker Saga; Phase 2, Quest of the Jedi, takes us to a time of great exploration in the galaxy as the Jedi begin to explore the far reaches of the Outer Rim for the first time. A relaunch of the Phase 1 comic of the same name, Marvel’s Star Wars: The High Republic #1 reunites the creative team of writer Cavan Scott and Ario Anindito, who served as penciller for the majority of the first volume alongside inker Mark Morales. Andrea Broccardo, another Star Wars comic regular artist, also draws the backup story.
Set on the familiar planet of Jedha, The High Republic #1 seeks to flesh out the diverse culture of force-driven religions and cultures that we have only seen fragments of in the planet’s handful of other appearances, most notable of which is the returning “Guardians of the Whills” whose last remaining members played a key part in Rogue One. Most of these groups are completely new, however. As someone who always loves when the Force is portrayed as something mystical and almost undefinable as opposed to just “magic telekinesis”, I’m a huge fan of the world-building Scott does in this issue to flesh out the many force abilities and connections beyond what we’ve seen before. It really adds to the wonder of the force and the tragedy of the lack of prevalence these groups seem to have in the more “modern” days of Star Wars, when even the groups who survive such as the Guardians of the Whills practice their abilities more in theory than practice. While this issue may throw a lot of information at you at once that can be hard to fully grasp just now, with the many groups being a main focus of this series, I’m sure each will get a spotlight as we go through the book, which judging by the checklist on the back is only intended to run 10 issues despite being labeled as an ongoing. This would make sense considering the shorter length of Phase 2, which only consists of 2 waves as opposed to Light of the Jedi’s 3.
While it may be a familiar location, there are no familiar faces here as Scott and Anindito introduce us to an all-new cast of Jedi that live on Jedha. One of my biggest disappointments with The High Republic so far was the lack of non-human protagonists, something THR was uniquely equipped to provide due to the lack of live-action limitations. With this issue being led by a Twi’lek, Sephi, and Kiffar (as well as a token human in the back-ups) it’s nice to see a wider variety of protagonists. The characters themselves are great so far too, particularly the trauma-filled Vildar Mac and the mysterious force-wielding thief who is yet to be named. Force-wielders operating outside of the Jedi/Sith dichotomy are rare in the Star Wars universe, and this new character provides plenty of new opportunities I hope Scott explores with them.
While Ario Anindito is no stranger to the High Republic world and his work on volume 1 was fantastic, there is a clear artistic evolution in their work on this issue. Their art has always thrived in showing expressive characters, and it’s even better here which really helps deepen the characters, such as showing the trauma Vildar Mac is buried under and making padawan Matty feel like the younger, fun Jedi she’s meant to be despite her brief page time. Anindito also produced the stunning cover art for this issue, which uses a slightly less cartoony style than his interior work and heavier, darker linework that really makes the characters pop. Now paired with colorist Frank Williams, their bright, almost neon style at times enhances the line work perfectly, and together the two are reminiscent of one of my favorite Star Wars artists, Caspar Wijngaard. With portions of the issue being focused on dreamlike visions, Williams’ style gives those an almost ethereal quality when he really empathized those neons, especially on the sky which looked beautiful and spooky. His style also really brings to life the more vibrant cityscape of Jedha, with the bright reds and purples of religious robes standing out amongst the beige and stone of the city, and especially the vast deserts or grimy cityscapes that Star Wars is often focused on.
The Andrea Broccardo-drawn backup story is certainly the weakest part of the story, again fleshing out the many Force groups of Jedha but in a very exposition-heavy way that aside from some stellar costume designs feels like a waste of a stellar artist. It’s still a side story full of many interesting ideas I hope get fleshed out even further in the series though, especially a brief nod to a potentially darker point in the Jedi’s history on Jedha.
As far as story continuity, aside from a few callbacks (call-forwards?) to Rogue One and a general understanding of Star Wars, The High Republic #1 is very new reader friendly to those unfamiliar with either comics or The High Republic with a classic opening crawl and timeline that help lay everything out. While its connections to the larger THR story are still unclear, it’s a promising start to an unexplored era that seeks to flesh out one of the most intriguing additions to the Star Wars canon in recent years and is well worth a read.